Productivity and GTD
How to deal with interruptions in The Pomodoro Technique
After a brief introduction to the Pomodoro Technique and a post in which I explained this method in more detail, I find it interesting to expose what Francesco Cirillo, author of The Pomodoro Technique, proposes to manage the interruptions that may occur when you are in the middle of a pomodoro.
These interruptions occur when you yourself are the one who provokes the interruption. It is that moment when you feel the urge to get up to eat something or make a call that you suddenly consider urgent or check if you have received that email you are waiting for.
The 25 minutes that a pomodoro lasts is a time short enough to not give in to that urge and wait until you hear the ring. Nevertheless, especially in the beginning, it can be hard to forget momentarily that urgency and focus on what you were doing.
How can you face this kind of interruptions? Doing these two things:
- Make the interruption clearly visible. At the moment that terrible urgency comes to your mind, add a symbol (Cirillo proposes an apostrophe) in the sheet where you score your pomodoros. Then add the new task to the end of the sheet under the title: “Unplanned and urgent.”
- Strive to finish the current Pomodoro. Remember the rule: If a Pomodoro begins, it has to ring.
The time you spend noting down the interruption is perfectly legal within the pomodoro, since you are not interrupting the task; you are dealing with the interruption. The amount of apostrophes in the sheet will allow you to become aware of your tendency to procrastinate.
If the tasks you have been adding require little time (a call, checking the email, etc.) you can use the 5-minute breaks between pomodoros (or the longer breaks between sets) to carry them out. If they require more time and are really urgent, you will have to devote some pomodoros to them. If it turns out they are not so urgent, just capture them in your GTD system at the end of the day.
If you succumb to the temptation to interrupt the pomodoro, it will be canceled. It will not count. Remember the rule: The Pomodoro is indivisible.
Here you are interrupted by others. This can be very common if you work in a social environment and your colleagues are not well educated on how you like to work.
Some external interruptions can be disabled during pomodoros. If that is the case (email notifications, phone calls, etc.), do not hesitate: disable them.
If someone cuts you off, you can politely say you are busy and cannot stop what you are doing; you will call back later, within a few hours, or tomorrow. A delay of 25 minutes or 2 hours (a four pomodoros set) is nearly always acceptable.
The communication strategy is always the same: inform effectively, negotiate quickly to reschedule the interruption, and call back the person who interrupted you as agreed. This is very important for them to learn that you are not just putting them off, but you value your time. If you return your calls, they will end up understanding the way you work and eventually cease to interrupt when you are in a pomodoro.
The way to handle these interruptions in your to-do sheet is basically the same as with internal interruptions: (1) make them clearly visible, but now mark them with a dash, and (2) you intend to finish the current Pomodoro.
In both cases, internal and external interruptions, the mechanism used is to reverse the their nature. We are no longer dependent on interruptions, interruptions depend on us. The aim is to protect the Pomodoro so you can put an X at the end of it.